Tuck and Cover: The History of the Punk Rock Drag Queen part 2 – Ever Upward oh Freak of Nature!

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Hello and welcome to Part 2 of Tuck and Cover – this time focusing on BOOB, RuPaul and the U-Hauls and the enigmatic Vaginal Davis. Shall we begin…

As Punk Rock, Glitter and Glam turned evermore toward the bloating commerciality of excess, and disco’s star waned, the subterranean world of the drag queen once again reappeared to attack the mainstream in America with the brash approach of Warholian NYC club kids. Led by the ever-charming yet psychotic Michael Alig, who spiralled ever closer to the edge of sanity, those who were truly creative within the scene were sporting looks that influenced the fashionistas as well as burgeoning rockstars and booking appearances on the cat walks of major runway events. Walt Paper, also known as Walt Cassidy, formed the art punk troupe BOOB with fellow club kid superstars, Desi Monster and Loxanna. Sick and tired of the jeans and t-shirt crowd that had invaded their native New York, BOOB sought to attack the complacency of the rock scene in America by harnessing extreme visuals, abrassive sonic structures and marrying them with experimental films and lyrics.

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The bands shows were exotic and caught the attention of a number of small time rockstars who would later adopt the images they had been witness to and claim them for their own – making a larger name for themselves in the process. It was during a showcase at Disco 2000, Alig’s famed club based in the Limelight, that Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids were first introduced to Paper and his partners in crime. A few years later Manson, who had dropped the Spooky Kids tag line, could be seen sporting Walt’s signature modern primitive look as were many of his band members.

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Unfortunately for BOOB, as Giuliani cracked down on what he saw as the obscenity of club culture and deviant nightlife taking hold of New York city, groups such as theirs found themselves with fewer venues to play and an even more restrictive and moralistic attitude towards drag monsters thanks to Aligs antics. BOOB disbanded in a bit of a haze leaving a void behind them in New York nightlife and only recently saw any recognition for their contribution in the form of an exhibition of archived material thanks to the invisible exports and Big Screen Plaza. Hopefully a much coveted CD and DVD will be released of their performances, as the surviving footage from NYC docs such as Freaks and Glam Gods by Ryan Island and the tracks uploaded to their myspace/youtube accounts are incredible. Insanely weird and wonderful, BOOB should never be discounted!

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Forging ahead following the demise of the club kids, was  the Atlanta expatriate RuPaul. Have y’all head o’her now? Yeah thought that name would ring a bell, and what a bell to ring! Drag supermodel of the world and reigning queen of the world of drag – a queen who has been able to conquer America and beyond with her positive attitude and glam fish aesthetic. She who did the impossible and broke conservative America! But what of the early years and what of Ms. Pauls punk past….

Wee Wee Pole featuring RuPaul and the U-Hauls was the Atlanta based project that allowed Ru to cut her teeth on the stage. The new wave and punk clubs of the eighties played host to their unique brand of stage show often featuring a predominantly nude RuPaul howling and prancing amongst the audience. Wee Wee Pole made use of typical post-punk devices; spiky guitars, primitive beats and lo-fi electronics though these were blended with a funk and soul edge which garnered enough attention to earn them spots supporting the Now Explosion and showcases in New York where RuPaul, alongside fellow Atlantan and music star Larry Tee really broke into their own. Have a listen to the groups surviving record, Tarzan here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tQvf4E3Y00

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As RuPaul stood, transformed into the glamazon we know her as today, image completed with her ’93 break through hit Supermodel (You’d Better Work), the underground was stirring once again and as unhappy teenagers angry with society erupted into grunges pessimistic fury, a new subculture was emerging. Queercore, the punk movement which sought to raise the profile of LGBT persons and their experiences outside of the typical environments and imagery associated with consumer gay lifestyle. Heading up this movement were Fifth Column and the zine JD’s, the brain child of Column drummer and film maker GB Jones and Caroline Azar along with soon to be (not so) reluctant pornographer, Bruce LaBruce. However, Queercore also owed a huge amount to the relentless talent of one lady in particular who has been know to raise more than just an eyebrow in her day, a lady known as Vaginal Davis!

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Ms Davis, AKA Vaginal Creme Davis, AKA Graciela et al… first made her name in the queer and punk zine communities of LA and Canada in the eighties with her xeroxed efforts, Fertile Latoyah Jackson, which amongst other things provided a spotlight for local bands, Ms. Davis’ inner thought processes and within the confines of the zines supplement, Shrimp, discuss the finer points of foot fetishism. VCD would regularly collaborate with BLaB and GB and fast became a stalwart of the burgeoning subculture and its associated movement, Riot Grrrl. In fact, if you listen to the Le Tigre song Hot Topic, you can hear Davis being name-checked. But let’s talk actual music! VCD began her career with the Afro Sisters, a post-punk acapella performance troupe that staged performances inspired by communism and rebellion against white supremacy – their now infamous ‘We’re Taking Over’ show featured the group claiming themselves to be the Sexualese Liberation Front who sought to overthrow the white corporate heads of state and violate them with gigantic black dildos. Somehow this managed to upset and unnerve even the punk crowds.

Following the demise of the Afro Sisters, Davis developed the seminal queercore group Black Fag, as well as Pedro, Muriel and Esther and later, with Alice Bag of 70’s punk progenitors; the Bags, Cholita! The Female Menudo! VCD’s punk-rock credentials not only overflow, they flood the plain! If you’d like to have a listen to some of the Cholita tracks which are currently out of print to purchase, you can head over to Alice Bag’s website at http://alicebag.com/media.html

VCD’s musical projects typically erred towards the sound exemplified by californian punk rock; brash loud guitars and pummeling drums. Davis’ vocal stylings varied from shrieks to spoken word to a tuneful catterwauling  – I generally prefer to call it wonderful! Listen to Chinga tu Madre on the link above and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Davis left LA around 5 years ago and headed for the urban art mecca, Berlin where she has become an art lecturer who tours regularly as well as a member of the art collective CHEAP. Davis has been credited along with Kembra Pfahler of the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, for helping create the arts movement known as Availabalism – using that which is at hand and readily available (hense the name) to create works of artistic significance. Davis is a well-respected author, performance artist and journalist and continues to host events, perform and sing with various musical projects as well. You can look up her website here: www.vaginaldavis.com/

Thanks for reading darlings, more to come soon

Drag on!

Dis Charge

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Tuck and Cover: The Hidden History of the Punk Rock Drag Queen (part 1)

Tuck and Cover

; the hidden story of the Punk-Rock Drag Queen!

Last time around, I was talking about the legacy of groups that have now been consigned to the dusty vaults of history to be poured over in the years to come – filed away under the dubious tagline of curiosity.  The work of a wealth of performers, reduced to a single word that falls short of describing their own unique sonic and visual stylings.

The contributions of luminaries such as Patti Smith and Richard Hell, Lydia Lunch and David Bowie to the exotic world of rock n roll are well documented. But what of the Wasp Women? Of Jayne County and the Six Inch Killaz, and why is it so hard to find a club (Save for Psycho:Drama of course) in which to toss a weave to the electrifying punk rock of Dirty Barby? I think it’s time for some perspective, as well as a short history lesson…

The catalyst of the gay civil rights movement now know as Stonewall, erupted from the afforementioned bar in New York 1969 following on from the death of camp icon, Judy Garland and years of harassment of LGBT patrons by law enforcement. You see, back in the day, there were all sorts of laws designed to block the freedom of expression of LGBT persons, laws that criminalised such activities as wearing women’s clothing in public – if you were caught wearing anything less than 3 items of clothing specific to your gender then BAM! Off to jail with you! It was not only an act of bravery to leave your house in drag, or in gender non-appropriate clothing as it would be called, it was an act of war! One queen who was always ready to land a blow for the cause, any cause actually, was Wayne County soon to be know as Jayne.

Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys who later became Wayne County and the Electric Chairs before being singularly known as Jayne County, a major figure in the worlds of both alternative rock and LGBT history, has been credited with being the first ever Trans performer in Punk, the influence behind one of David Bowies’ hit songs and a hardline fighter in the riots that sparked at the Stonewall Inn all those years ago.

Jaynes brash, bluesy writing style and snap delivery quickly lent to punk rocks spit and sneer attitude – in fact it pre-dated it! Her first major effort, ‘Electric Chairs‘ released on Illegal Records was a mission statement, ripping and snorting, boozing and brawling. The lead single Fuck Off, now infamous, punishes the fool that wastes Ms. County’s time “If you don’t wanna fuck me baby, baby fuck off. If you don’t want a piece of the action, baby take a walk. I ain’t got time for yesterday’s news, don’t fill me up with your bull-shit-blues”. Jayne spoke then and continues to speak her mind in a matter of fact brutality that so many british and american groups desparately sought to capture but always fell short. Her aggressive sexuality and gravel road vocals could whither the ineffectual generations of punks that became ever more bland in the years to come *ahem* Rancid/Greenday/Blink 182.

County has remained an influential figure on the fringe for years – she has made repeated appearances at drag festivals such as Wigstock curated by Lady Bunny, collaborated with recent RuPaul Drag Race winner Sharon Needles and been the feature of countless articles, documentaries and books.

Whilst County was tearing up clubs across the USA and Europe, San Francisco based gender-fuck collective, the Cockettes, were causing quite a stir themselves. Preferring a rather more shambolic approach to drag, the Cockettes were at odds with the media representation of drag and trans performers at the time, typified by Warhol’s factory stars. Preferring full beards coated in glitter to feminine realness , tunics and psychadelic handmade prints to designer illusion – the Cockettes certainly stood out from the pack. Performances were staged in the city of origin and quickly became notorious for their irreverent, chaotic and humorous nature. Even Baltimore resident and film star Divine was scripted in for one of their legendary shows. Once they decamped to New York in 1971 to put on a small run of performances their star officially waned as the collectives wanton abandonment of style in place of hippie free-form happenings did not win them fans in the Big Apple and following their return to San Fran the group disintegrated in a haze of in-fighting.

Born out of the dissolution of the Cockettes and their splinter group: the Angels of Light, post-punk wailers; The Wasp Women were born. Now, I know I spoke a little about these guys in a recent entry but I felt it necessary to devote a certain amount of information regarding their origins in this post as well to provide a little more context, they were after all, the reason I started this article. Without overstating their virtues, the Wasp Women were FABULOUS. Rejecting the peace and love optimism of the Cockettes, this splinter group were far darker; preferring chalk white faces with heavy black eyes and contouring, skin tight black outfits to the ill fitting dress-up box imagery of their former incarnations and a far darker lyrical content – ‘Shoot me in the head, make me feel dead, KILL ME!’ taken from ‘Kill Me‘, or the bratty and trashy, ‘Fuck you, you queen, you act like a machine!’ from ‘I Don’t Need Your Attitude‘. Sadly only two tracks, a short appearance in the classic punk-film ‘Whatever Happened to Susan Jane‘  and a snippet of live footage from 1979’s Castro Street Fair seem to remain of this group. There is one surviving recording that I am aware of which has been released by Dark Entries on their B.A.R.T vinyl reissue!

 

Get it, HERE: http://www.darkentriesrecords.com/out-today-de-013-various-bay-area-retrograde-bart-vol-1/

 

Now it’s time to talk about a queen who has probably been the biggest inspiration for all drag queens and many others since his arrival on the scene – a queen who has left a mark unlike any other on the face of both commerical and alternative cultures, the one and only; DIVINE! I’m not going to go into massive detail here as the first lady of fucked-up drag is the subject of so much focus – a brilliant documentary titled ‘I AM DIVINE‘ is currently being put together with support from the original Dreamlanders as well as the pope of trash, John Waters. What I’m preferring to discuss here, is Divine’s music and the impact that has made. Let’s make something very clear here, Divine had an awful voice, he couldn’t pitch a note to save his life – but that harsh guttarl delivery was part of his charm. Whether he was belting out rock assaults with as much flash and trash as he could give – ‘Born to be Cheap‘ or issuing sexually aggressive electronica produced by Bobby Orlando with ‘Shoot Your Shot‘, Divine left a mark across the world that has influenced thousands if not millions of people. His unqiue brand of sexual anarchy and the wealth of one-liners delivered in Waters’ movies (and quoted ad infinitum) made Divine incredibly visible. His aesthetic was harsh and unrelenting and his sound matched: A perfect combination of lethal flash and in your face rock ‘n’ roll attitude.

Like, comments, share, lather, rinse repeat!!!!

Love and Bruises

Dis Charge

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